Early in my survey career, the popular definition of GIS among surveyors was “get it surveyed.” The accuracy of GIS simply wasn’t deemed high enough to be of interest.

Boy did we miss the boat. At the recent Esri International User Conference in San Diego, we saw an effort to bridge that gap; however, there was still a separation between the two groups of about 1,800 feet. The Survey Summit was a valuable resource held at the Hyatt in San Diego, while the user conference for GIS was hosted in the convention center down the street. Even a two-day overlap in scheduling seemed to limit the linking of these interwoven yet separate professions.

Frankly, I don't even know how the professions got so far apart. A Pangaean philosophy seems as prevalent today as what our profession saw 30 years ago. Mount Rushmore, which is often described by the surveying community as “three surveyors and some other guy,” hails from a time when the profession gave high value to citizens. Today, it seems the other guy is winning; attorneys and politicians are set in stone as the respected professionals. The average citizen probably deals with surveyors only once or twice in their lives, when purchasing their homes (if then). Conversely, GIS technology is in front of the public every day through consumer GPS devices and a media blitz of GIS information.

Consider what the situation will be like 30 years into the future. Will GIS and surveying be farther apart or closer together? Although politics deals with territories, where is the art? As younger generations come on board, the line will become more obscured. It is a continental drift we cannot ignore.

In San Diego, there was a noticeable difference in the age of attendees between the GIS venue and the Survey Summit. (I’ll admit I was part of the seasoned surveyor group.) This difference only points to the influx of young professionals who are interested in mapping and is not indicative of a dying profession. It does, however, denote a change in mentoring regarding the art of surveying. The earth is dynamic, and so must be the professions that measure and mark its features.

On both sides, software has played a part in rifting the professions. Methods and resources presented at the 2012 Esri conference are revolutionizing the way both professions work. What today is overlap will soon be separation. We must remember where we have been to know where we are going.

By the way, those three surveyors on Mount Rushmore—Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln—blazed trails for railroads and exploration. How thrilled they would have been to have attended the Esri conference! Today, surveyors are primarily caretakers for boundaries, while GIS has become the trailblazer for innovation.

Overlap is a good thing.